- The Ends of Literature: The Latin American "Boom" in the Neoliberal Marketplace
Toward the final pages of The Ends of Literature: The Latin American "Boom" in the Neoliberal Marketplace, the author contends that "contemporary Latin American leftism . . . rests neither in a radicalism nor in an orthodoxy, change nor maintenance, but in an effort to occupy an imaginary hybrid site between aestheticism and empiricism" (190). The reflection on what kind of other is fashioned on both sides of the border of that "imaginary hybrid site" is the thread that unifies a very eclectic group of literary texts and films: Julio Cortázar's short story "Axolotl"; Luisa Valenzuela's short story "Change of Weapons"; Ricardo Piglia's first novel, Artificial Respiration; Octavio Paz's classic text The Labyrinth of Solitude; Edward James Olmos's film American Me; Alejo Carpentier's novel The Lost Steps; a fragment of colonial writer Bartolomé de las Casas; and I, Rigoberta Menchú. The breadth of the theoretical discussion is extensive since Levinson uses both classical and contemporary approaches to reading and analysis (Plato, Freud, Lacan, Jurgen Habermas, Alan Touraine, Edward Said, Jacques Derrida) and he also inscribes this book—especially the beginning and the end—onto the current debate about Latin American cultural studies. Hence, he discusses Alberto Moreiras, Roberto González Echevarría, Román de la Campa, and John Beverley's interventions. (An important omission in this debate is Beatriz Sarlo, although Levinson seems to be working primarily with scholars based in the US.)
In his introduction, Levinson argues that the humanities might have accepted "the end of literature" and "the end of the state" a little too prematurely. These ends are interconnected and, furthermore, represent beginnings, goals. Levinson concentrates on the transición phase in Latin America, that is, the postdictatorship periods that brought about intense neoliberal political projects. Latin Americans are immersed in a kind of "market fundamentalism" that gives way to el consenso neoliberal, where capitalism is thought to be essential and no substitute politics are possible. Levinson analyzes the aforementioned texts in light of the concept of closure: of the state, of literature, and of what became known as the "Boom." His chapters present compelling arguments about the place of literature in Latin America (a site of translations and borders); about the immensurability of certain crimes (in the case of repression and torture); about what a writer is (someone who relates); about a psychoanalysis of culture; about the necessity to "deorientalize" certain critical practices; about the concept of the unconscious as an alternative to postcolonial theories applied too eagerly to Latin America's cultural production; about how testimonio dislocates notions of literature and literariness. Levinson is at his best when paying close attention to a particular work; thus, his excellent insights into "Axolotl" [End Page 497] as a kind of "larval phase" for Latin America and his perceptive analysis of Piglia's novel, which, according to Levinson, addresses brilliantly the problem of finitude. Less forceful is his pairing of Paz's text with Olmos's film. Moreover, in this and some other parts of the book, the idea of the impact of the Boom, for example, gets lost in an intricate (and sometimes downright obscure) theoretical web. For a critic who is engaged deeply in the study of Latin American literature—and who questions the constructs "Latin America" and "literature"—Levinson seems to accept too easily magical realism as "a key aesthetic mode" for Latin American fiction and the idea that the "Latin American Boom should be understood as the last great literary movement of the West and as the expression and thematization of the end of that movement" (26, 28). Both statements are highly debatable; for instance, there has been much discussion about the appropriateness of calling the Boom a literary movement instead of a market strategy.
Levinson's book is of considerable value for the state of Latin American literary, cultural, and political studies today since it attempts to escape both the traps of traditionalism and postmodernism. Up to the last chapter, Levinson...